The paint chips represent a controversial and complicated footnote to the case. It ties to Cory Bober, the amateur researcher who learned of their existence in the late 1990s, after obtaining a copy of the state's crime-lab report on the jeans.
Bober argued for years that forensic tests of the paint chips would reveal a link to his long-time suspect, a Puyallup sex offender. Bober's theory rests on the following chain of facts and inferences:
Though personal research, Bober established that his suspect was in Puyallup the night of Misty's disappearance (at Good Samaritan Hospital, where the suspect's relative was giving birth).
Bober also established that his suspect was driving a white Chevrolet Cavalier at the time, a car previously used to transport paint sprayers, which were stored in the trunk. The paint in the sprayers was red – the suspect used the sprayers to paint another car, a Porsche the suspect owned and later sold.
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Bober theorized that the suspect concealed Misty's body in the trunk of the Cavalier. He inferred that stray chips from the paint sprayers would have found their way onto Misty's jeans.
Because the paint sprayers were used to paint the Porsche, Bober argued that paint samples from the Porsche would match the paint chips on Misty's jeans.
Bober tracked the Porsche to a new owner, and confirmed it still had the red paint job. In 2005, he persuaded Puyallup police to obtain paint samples from the Porsche.
Police sent the paint samples to the state crime lab for a comparison test with Misty's jeans.
The paint chips from Misty's jeans had previously been sent (in 2003) to a private forensic lab in Illinois for comparison with evidence linked to Gary Ridgway, the Green River Killer.
Ridgway painted truck panels for a living, and paint particles were part of the forensic evidence against him.
The Illinois test showed no match between the Misty paint chips and the Ridgway paint particles, according to records from the investigation.
In late 2006 or early 2007, the state crime lab tried to conduct a second paint-chip test, comparing the chips from the jeans to paint from the Porsche. The analyst, Terry McAdam, found the paint chips missing, according to records.
As a result, the comparison test was never conducted.
Puyallup police now say the paint chips have been found. They cannot explain the earlier account that the chips were missing, except to say the microscopic chips were so small they were overlooked.
Police now believe the chips are fragments of nail polish, but they say they cannot test them to make sure, because the process would destroy the evidence.
The result: Bober's theory of particle transference remains untested. However, police spoke to Bober's long-time suspect in the course of their rebooted investigation. They don't think he's a feasible candidate.